Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Diane Cirafesi, De Kooning and Dinning in NYC

It’s the New Year so we are going to mix things up with artists and interviews… Road Trip! I headed to NYC with local artist Diane Cirafesi, to see some art and eat. Little did I know how appropriate it was that Diane and I were going to see the De Kooning  show at the Museum of Modern Art. After that we headed uptown to the Guggenheim to see the weird, yet, awesome work of Maurizio Cattelan.

This isn’t about a dead artist or one that plans to retire after his Guggenheim retrospective; this is about a West Chester local. Diane has lived in WC since she graduated from West Chester University. I won’t divulge her year but she has seen the town grow and change. She thinks that right now is the best the town has ever been. Diane did leave PA for a little bit to find “herself” out west. She then comments that she didn’t find herself out there so she came back here. While out there, she fell in love with the west and brought it back here. It resonates in her painting of the blue skies, the southwest colors and some of the magic that happens on the plateaus. Diane’s art is a connection between her heart and her hand responding to that emotion. The build up of materials in her mixed media work combined with all the drawing marks clearly captures that connection.

After leaving the MoMa (Museum of modern art) we took a taxi uptown to Demarchelier Restaurant, a little French bistro on 86th St, so I could ask her some questions, eat, drink and debate the vast career of De Kooning. We ordered beer, wine, and the pate de maison just to get things started. Before things really get interesting let me just tell you I ordered the daily special on Friday; Bouillabaisse. OMG! A beautiful presentation of seafood with each mussel placed facing up creating an edible circle that encompassed scallops and a ½ lobster resting on top of it all. I was dining in pleasure while Diane was pulling her hair worried by what I would ask. I assured her I was here to share my enthusiasm for her work with others.

How did you get started making art?
When I was very young I used to go over to Bobby Straus’ house and draw on his chalkboard. I would draw birds or dogs or whatever. The family there would encourage me, my family didn’t. 
Did you receive any formal art training?
Yes, West Chester University. At that time they did not have a BFA. It was a finishing school. At that time you could get a BA in Humanities with a Fine Art major.
Can you describe your work in general for the readers?
It is largely figurative. I would call it abstract realism. I like the idea of drawing, and reworking the paper.
What is your favorite medium?
I tend to work on paper with charcoal, then paint, then back to charcoal.  I do aspire to the idea of rubbing out and showing the marks of the work that’s still there.
How do you do choose your subject matter? 
It’s generally always women. I will see something that inspires me; it might be a book, a passage of a story, something that inspires me on the street, junk that I find.
What are your thoughts on perfection?
I hate perfection.
How do you decide when an artwork is done?
I never decide. I think it is always one huge painting, your whole life.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life?
My daughter, because she really grounded me and if it weren’t for her I probably would be in the gutter somewhere.
What inspires you?
Everything visual. There is always something that is exciting, powerful, and worth looking at. The spiritualities of it, and of course the Catholic upbringing.
Your work has a lot of religious overtones, why?
Because when your raised Catholic, it is pounded into you somehow and it never leaves you. I was young at the point that it hit me that this was a lot of hocus pocus. How could that communion host be the body and blood of Christ? At that point, that is when I considered the philosophy of magic.
What do you enjoy about the Southwest?
The iconography. The religious and spiritual aspects of it. It’s just a mystery and its involved with the same thing that Catholicism is involved with. Same thing if you were in Italy. It stems from the primitive. It stems from the universal, and from what’s within us. I am fascinated by how we come to the point of magic, religion, and voodoo and how it exists despite all logic.
When do you paint?
Eleven years ago I went part time with my job so that I could devote my time to painting. A very dear friend of mine died and I thought, “I am not going to die before I have done what I wanted to do.” Now, I paint Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. During the week I paint 11pm to 1am.
Do you have a tip for artists that are just getting started?
Be honest.

What are you eating right now?
I have the onion soup and a simple arugala salad.
What is your favorite food?
What does home mean to you?
Your proudest moment?
My daughter
Strangest possession?
Dirt from a church in Mexico. It’s healing dirt that I have had for, probably, 25 years.
What was your mother right about?
That’s evil.
Money is OK, but it isn’t what life is about?
Where did you grow up?
Outside Norristown in a suburb called East Norriton.
What is the last book you read?
Communion by Whitley Strieber; its about aliens.
You collect?
Junk and crosses
Favorite time of the day?
Late evening.
At your best, you are most like this famous person?
Francis Bacon
Your best birthday?
When I turned 50 and they had a surprise for me on the rough top of Vincent’s and lots and lots of people came. I sang “Summertime,” which I regret till this day.

What was your first word? - Beer
Play - I was in Skin of our Teeth
Album - Beatles
Concert - Bruce Springsteen before he was big.
Plane rideTo California to visit my brother.
Piece of art you sold - At Chester County Art Association.

With all my questions answered and still much more to eat, drink, see and discuss; we taxied over to the Guggenheim. Upon entering, our jaw dropped as we looked at Cattelan’s entire body of work suspended from the ceiling. Everything from a few stuffed horses, a statue of the pope hit by a meteor, to a life like replica of Hitler as a youth praying. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you have until January 22nd to find out, then the show comes down. As artists we were overwhelmed and walked away with a glazed look, but had a deep desire to create something just as powerful. We needed to decompress and see some more “friendly” art so we headed to the Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle. A timeless New York watering hole decorated with interior paintings by Ludwig Bemelmans the illustrator of the children’s book, Madeline. I had the “La Poire and ginger” cocktail consisting of Grey Goose, La Poire ginger liquor, fresh lemon juice and simple syrup. Diane kept it simple with a Miller Light. Both came with NYC prices, $21.00 and $10.00 respectively. By the end of the day I realized how appropriate it was to see De Kooning’s work with Diane. I was attracted to De Kooning’s woman series, a series he worked back and forth on for the majority of his career. The layering of paint and sketchy marks used to define his subject accumulated until he knew he had to stop for it to be complete. I’m not sure if he ever could have stopped working on these. This is the same excitement I see in Diane’s work. I guess it is the connection between the heart and hand. There is never rest. After that pontificating moment and a few cocktails and beers I cornered Diane into answering my speed question on video, in the lobby of the Carlyle.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My Best Gift Ever!

It's that time of year again in case you have forgotten…I remind my family members on Christmas Day that it is 25 days until my birthday. It is a way for me to do a quick tally of what I have received for Christmas and then forward the missing items to my birthday wish list. In all fairness, as I get older, there are less things to write down. There aren't that many commercial items that I need or want. I'm really not that guy that has everything because I don't. I'd like a new truck or at least have it fixed but it doesn't seem like a reasonable gift to ask for. Not that I haven't tried…neither Santa or a dear friend has bought me that BMW Z3 I have always wanted.

This year I wanted to rehash an older present/idea that my wife had given me; it was the birthday week. Yes I want another! It was kind of like Hanukkah, with a present every night and there were candles. That is where the similarities stop. Although I have never experienced Hanukkah, I can only imagine it was like this. I did not need seven consecutive days or more stuff, considering I have a bunch of stuff I all ready don't use. Instead, my birthday gift each night consisted of a different event, centered on a thematic meal. Ok, there are some things I don't need in there like the extra calories.

I loved this idea because it reflects my thoughts, lifestyle and art. To package it neatly, it is like my paintings; a mixture of ideas that capture a moment in time. Philosophically stated it has to be that precise, present time it was created. That piece of art couldn't be created before or after it had to be created in that moment of the present. Ok think about that for a second...did anyone hear that tree fall in the woods?

For me it is about breaking up time and turning them into small meaningful events. After all we don’t remember days we remember moments. Some of the events become special and memorable others fall by the wayside of the daily grind. For instance, as a family we took the ordinary dinning experience and turned it into a moment - we all cooked dinner together. The girls made soup, Nicolas made cocktails, my wife made the main meal and I supervised. I’m not sure who will remember it but it went down in my book as A OK!

As my birthday gets closer I thought to myself, how I didn't want a big party. Good thing too because as far as I know nobody planned a big party for me. As of Monday it seems like I got my birthday wish my birthday week started Monday, I saw War Horse with my oldest daughter. There are memorable moments planned for the rest of the week, I’m not sure what they are but my calendar has been sectioned off. Personally I am hoping my wife gives me a birthday month but I don’t see that happening. I believe it's kind of like the Genie saying for your third wish you can’t wish for more wishes. Shhhhhh…I think I hear the sound of one hand clapping.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Excuse me… Mr. Schaller

The salutation “Mr. Schaller” came from my daughter’s twelve year old friend. It sounded like nails on a chalkboard and my hearing aid was on max volume. No, I don’t wear a hearing aid but when I hear “mister,” I feel like I should. I usually respond to “hey” or, “yo” and of course “Jeff.” Depending on who is in the room, I will usually respond to Dad too. For some reason “dad” doesn’t have the same old age connotation as mister does. I guess it is respectable and nice to hear some kids actually being polite when addressing adults. Another one of my daughter’s friends addressed me as “the famous artist,” I told Briana, my daughter; she has a good friend there.

My kids are growing up and I’m just getting older so I want to capture this special time with them. Once again as I do every year, I photograph them and turn the image into a silkscreen for the back of my paintings. It is a way for me to mark the time and enjoy their smiling faces on the back of all my artwork. I started this in 2004 as a way to date my paintings. Back then there were only two kids, now there are 3 smiling bobble-heads on the back of each painting. Every year I silkscreen the image onto a wall in my studio to keep a record of each picture. I’m sure as they grow older it will be harder to get them to all be in one place at the same time.

After watching and hearing my daughter talk to her friends, I’m sure there will be hair and make up time needed. I can see this simple way to capture a memory becoming a task. But I’m happy right now immortalizing this age on the back of a painting. So for now, I’ll take the pictures as they grow older and hopefully I’ll be answering to grandpa, way later. I’m still getting used to “mister” and even “sir.” 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ode to 2012

It’s that time again when all the major TV stations, news papers and magazines look back and recap the previous year. People get sentimental and decide to get more fit, lose weight or resolve to do something better for themselves. Well, I’m no different; so let me digress and lament about the previous year. This way I can justify my lack of fitness and the few extra pounds to decide if I did better than I thought. Feel free to skip this blog post and come back next week for my worldly views, rants and random thoughts.

As I look back to the beginning of the year I had such high hopes. A dream project that would take care of my financial needs for the remainder of the year. That didn’t happen, I spent/wasted a lot of time on the project. Let’s make lemonade out of these lemons, because I’m not celebrating with champagne like I thought I would have. Lesson learned: that a business projects, ideas, commissions must have scope and benchmarks must be met if you want success, aka champagne.

Then move into spring when I lick my wounds, gather my pride, and muster up the energy to continue. I look back at the work I did during the spring and one could say it was a little sporadic. In artistic terms, that’s “experimenting.” In gallery terms, that’s “playing,” with a heavy suggestion on figure it out and get back to doing what you do best. While I played, I found Evans Encaustics colored Holy Grail and spray paint to be very exciting and useful in my movement forward. No worries, all these paintings aren’t hanging on a wall behind a collector’s sofa. These early experimentations never made it; they were my little advancements to enjoy.

Fast forward to summer when all I want to do is vacation and relax by the pool. There was no time for that. I had a new public arts project to complete. I had also stopped playing and was seriously committed to making awesome paintings for my October show. I sweated away the summer and completed a 40’x 12’ mural to be installed in Lexington KY at the end of the summer. In between mural drying time I worked on my encaustic paintings for the show. After all they were taking twice as long since I had added all my new little toys to my palette of talent.

Now I was ready for that vacation! Having one of the best vocations in the world, I could combine the mural installation with some southern sightseeing. I packed up the family; we had to leave the dog behind, and headed to Kentucky to install the mural. I put my kids to work for five days. We primed, painted and produced a magnificent mural. I considered that a fun vacation, however, the family had other ideas. So we headed further south to sight see, stopping in Nashville, Memphis, Grace Land, a quick stop in Tupelo to see Elvis’ first house then to Alabama for the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament. That concluded our summer and I found myself back at the easel slinging wax. To my and the gallery owner, Isabelle’s, surprise, I was pretty well ahead of the game and had completed more artwork than the gallery could accommodate. Wow! Considering all those facebook posts where it appeared I was everywhere but the easel, I had managed to be productive. It is now October and my wife and I are on a plane to Switzerland for the opening of my show. Like I previously stated, what a great vacation… I mean vocation. The show was well received and despite all the newspapers, magazines and news stories about the European crisis, I had sold half the show. I don’t take full credit for being one of the U.S. major exporters; it might be that European culture. My financial worries were over, my credit cards paid off and I can start the year at… let’s just say a more positive number than a negative one.

The year-end review is in… the year consisted of a few steps back than a few steps forward. Sometimes it felt like exercise on a treadmill. You know that feeling like your moving but you look around and it’s still the same scene. Usually the person next to you is panting and all sweaty and gross; he looks like he is working harder but your both in the same spot not going anywhere. I like to put my headphones and jam to a different beat, close my eyes, picture the places I have been and enjoy the moment while thinking of the places I am going.

Enjoy the New Year!